Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Poltergeist (2015)

MAY 22, 2015

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I've noted before that Poltergeist II: The Other Side was the first horror movie I ever saw in theaters, and thus it's very likely that the original Poltergeist was the first horror movie I saw, period (why would my mom take me to a sequel if I hadn't seen the original, especially if I was obviously kind of young for that stuff?). That said, it doesn't hold TOO much of a nostalgic grip on my heart - I quite like it, but I don't watch it over and over nor do I even consider it one of my 10 (20?) favorite horror films or anything like that. Just because it obviously played a big role in my horror fandom (and also made me afraid of clowns for a while there) doesn't mean I hold it sacred, and thus I went into the remake with an open mind.

It didn't take long for that optimism to fade, however. The impressive cast is unfortunately left to flounder by the painfully by-the-numbers script and unenthusiastic direction, turning in one of the more lifeless big-budget horror remakes I've seen in quite some time. I think I have to go back to the Platinum Dunes Nightmare on Elm Street to find a film with THIS much potential and THIS much talent (and, of course, THIS much money) all going toward a film where absolutely no one seems to really give a shit about anything that's on screen. I'd almost rather it was nigh on unwatchable and riddled with awful storytelling, acting, FX, etc - it would at least be MEMORABLE. This was so rote I had to go off to the little walkway into the theater (where I could still see the screen but no one could see me) to take notes on my phone, because I knew that if I waited until I wrote the review hours later, or even until I got into my car, I'd forget just about everything I had just seen.

Let's get the good out of the way, because it'll be quick. As I said, the cast is great. Even a hack like Gil Kenan is incapable of making Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt anything less than the most charming and likable people you're likely to meet, and they do a fine job recreating that easy, lived-in chemistry that Craig The Nelson and JoBeth Williams had in the original. The kids are also good, and Jared Harris is always a pleasure so casting him as Tangina, essentially, was an inspired choice. And while the script plods along using the original as a guide every step of the way, there's a scene that seems to be paying homage to the sequels, with a garage based attack (a la the first sequel's climax) involving a hand coming out of a puddle in the cement (like Poltergeist III). And Rockwell drinks from a bottle and spits up some worms (hallucination scene), in what HAS to be a callback to II's most famous scare. Not that I particularly love those movies and was overjoyed to see them referenced, but I like the idea of giving them a nod anyway. Also, they didn't give anyone the same names - the family dynamic is exactly the same (two daughters, one son as the middle child) but it's not the Freelings (it's the Bowens) and the first names don't match either.

But that'd mean more if they weren't doing the exact same things in the exact same order. The oldest daughter plays more of a role here than the original Dominique Dunne character, but otherwise every single beat is pretty much the same until the final 15 minutes. The tree, the clown, the TV (static instead of snow), the youngest disappearing, the frazzled, sleep deprived visit to the paranormal team... it's all there, with no real diversions of note. It's not a word for word copy like Psycho, but it might as well have been, because at least then we could just settle into their groove in some way. Instead, they will continually offer new wrinkles or ideas, only for the end result to just be whatever happened in Tobe Hooper's movie. It's like, if Hooper was at point A and took a right then a left to reach point B, Gil Kenan would go straight and then take a right - they'd both be at the same spot, so what does it matter what path they took? I kept hoping for a major change, like they were trying to trick us by being familiar only to throw a major curveball (kill off one of the characters, perhaps), but no. The ending is a bit different but in a way that means nothing unless there's a sequel, which I hope there isn't.

The script also feels like the end result of two different approaches, which, like the Nightmare remake (and also The Fog), renders some plot points completely baffling. For example, the dad isn't in real estate this time, he's a recently laid off exec from John Deere, and moved to the house not because it was part of his company, but because they could afford it. Ignoring the idea that a family led by two people who don't work (she's a stay at home mom) are somehow "reduced" to buying a two story home in the suburbs (they throw some power lines up to make it look like a crappy neighborhood, but it's actually really nice and probably a lot better than most audience members can afford), we still have to wonder, then, why does the poltergeist fixate on them? It's the same plot as before - the housing development was built over a cemetery where the graves were left intact while the tombstones were relocated - but without that connection that Nelson's character had to (flimsily) explain why they specifically were being targeted, I spent the whole movie wondering why none of their neighbors were being harassed. There's some hint that the power lines are involved in the freaky occurrences, but their house isn't even the closest one to them, not by a long shot. For the majority of the film, Kenan ignores the existence of the neighbors entirely to avoid explaining this potential plot hole, but then when their house explodes (it's not a spoiler, it happened in the original and I've been perfectly clear that this movie does nothing different) you see cars in every driveway and even a few neighbors in the street watching.

There are also some new touches that add absolutely nothing, like an alarm system that they spend an inordinate amount of time establishing considering there's no payoff. The oldest daughter's cell phone gets fried (presumably from the ghost, we don't actually see it) and Rockwell buys her a new one, and that's that. And Harris' character is a lame TV show host, but he never even tries to use the family's plight for his show (Rockwell says something like "I told him he can't film", but since Harris never brought it up, it carries no weight). It's like half the people calling the shots on this thing wanted it to be identical, and the other half wanted to carve their own path and really modernize it, and Kenan just said yes to both parties, so you have all these potential new ideas to explore getting lip service before the film gets back on the 33 year old track established by the original. It got to the point where I was happy to see some CGI FX because at least it was something that they couldn't be copying from Hooper for a few minutes.

And that's the other odd thing - there are simply no scares in this movie. The clown doll probably would have worked if it wasn't shown in every trailer, and even if it still did it's kind of pathetic that it would be the highlight by far. The tree is less terrifying than the one from Harry Potter, and once Carol Anne, er, Maddie, gets taken they don't even really try for anything else that might jolt an audience (getting under our skin or offering legit suspense, at this point, would be expecting far too much from this enterprise). This is the 2nd major horror release in a row after Unfriended that is bizarrely lacking in even generic terror - it's not that the scares don't work so much as they simply aren't THERE. It certainly FEELS like a horror movie, but Kenan and the writers forgot to add those actual elements; even when copying Hooper it never approaches any semblance of fear or terror. I got more worked up during the trailers for other genre films (Insidious 3 and Crimson Peak) than I did throughout this entire thing, which is embarrassing considering how easy a sucker I am for family horror now that I have a kid (whose birthday is today!). I felt my pulse rise a tad when Maddie comes back unconscious from the other side, but that's about it - and that's like 75 minutes into the movie or whatever. Little late to start pumping the audience's adrenaline, wouldn't you say?

But the cast! It's a testament to all of them, particularly Rockwell, that the movie is even watchable at all. Sure, his droll one-liners are less amusing when his daughter is missing, but he's still making the most of a thankless role and never once acting like it's beneath his talents, which it most certainly is. Ditto DeWitt, who gets even less to do - there's a halfhearted attempt to make the son the center of the movie this time, but with everyone hellbent on copying the movie where he was NOT the main focus, it doesn't really work. But it still keeps mom from diving into the closet to rescue her daughter, which means DeWitt never gets a big moment (there's no pool either; the alternate Kenan offers is the movie's low point, for sure). There should be some sort of law against casting actors this good in a crummy movie like this and not even giving them a big hero moment to make up for the rest of the crap they had to walk through. I hope they were paid well, at least.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Maggie (2015)

MAY 10, 2015

GENRE: ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Imagine an episode of The Walking Dead where Carl gets bit in the first scene, and the rest of the episode focuses entirely on Rick wrestling with the inevitable as the others keep saying "kill him, now!". It'd probably be one of the best episodes of the series, it would be the one they use when trying to get Andrew Lincoln an award, and for once the dumber audience members might not complain about the lack of zombie action. Unfortunately for Maggie, it's a full length film that amounts to that exact, very minimal plot, and at 90 minutes it's not quite enough to sustain a feature's demands - even if it does have one of the best performances its star has ever given.

Said star is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a role that could just as easily have been played by George Clooney or Ed Harris or any other elder statesman actor you can think of - there is nothing "Schwarzenegger-ian" about it. Take whatever image you might get in your mind from "a zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger" and I guarantee you won't see anything like it in the film. There are only three traditional (meaning largely anonymous) undead in the film, and while they all die at Arnold's hands, it's not played for action heroics (one of them is actually off-screen, in fact). They simply illustrate the tangible threat of a zombie for anyone who's never seen a zombie movie before, and that's their function - this is not a traditional horror movie. The introduction of the first zombie (in a gas station) is sort of a scary moment, but the rest of the film is straight up drama, with the process of Maggie (Abigail Breslin) slowly turning into a zombie playing out the same way a movie about a person with cancer or Alzheimers or whatever would depict the illness taking over.

It's not the first film to take this approach, nor will it be the last. The appeal is seeing Arnold go through these motions, and I couldn't help but think the movie is 20 years too late. I love that the big guy is taking chances and doing different things at this point in his career, but not only is he too old for the role (Maggie is 16ish and his oldest of three children - he's 65 years old!), but the change of pace would have been more eye-opening had it come along when he was still at the top of his game. We've seen him do the grieving dad thing in other films (including End of Days, his only other horror movie) and we've also seen him take on roles that reduced his usual superhuman stature (Last Stand, for example). Hell, even the new Terminator movie seems to suggest he's past his due date. It'd be more effective and exciting to see him in this state in between, say, True Lies and Eraser, where he'd not only be age appropriate but also the idea of him NOT going around blowing zombies away and quipping would be less of a shock.

It'd also help the fact that the movie itself isn't particularly that novel. Arnold's casting is pretty much the only offbeat choice; the story has no real wrinkles to speak of, and you pretty much know how it'll play out once you've met all of its 7 or 8 characters of note. There are a couple of cops who keep checking in; one is older and a friend to Arnold, the other not as sympathetic and very much gung-ho about killing anyone that's infected as soon as possible. Then there's the neighbor family, where the mom (not infected) hides her zombie husband and daughter, all of whom exist for no other reason than to show Arnold a glimpse of what may happen if he ignores everyone's warnings to bring Maggie to quarantine. Or he could take her out himself, which is the advice he gets from his doctor friend who supplies him the cocktail that will very painfully end her life before she turns and becomes dangerous. It's all stuff we've seen before in some form or other (including on Walking Dead itself), so once the thrill of seeing Arnold going through these motions wears off, we're left with something a bit too threadbare and familiar to really hit the nerves it wants to.

I mean, sure, it gets pretty touching at times; there are a few moments of levity between Arnold (I forget his character's name, not that it matters) and Maggie that are wonderful, and it's also where he's at his best. There's a good one where they make fun of his wife's cooking (Maggie is from his first marriage, the woman is dead), and another later where they talk about her mom and his old truck - these scenes more than make up for the (too) many ones that have Arnold and/or Maggie just sort of wandering or driving around the dying world, with director Henry Hobson indulging in what seems like an obsession with focusing on a random object and leaving everything else in soft focus (including his actors) behind it. This is Hobson's first feature after a lengthy career in both video game trailers and title sequences, and I couldn't help but think he was trying to distance himself from that sort of flashiness by slowing everything to a crawl here. I knew there wouldn't be much action (it's a PG-13 movie, for starters), but I was hoping there would be more to the narrative than what I already knew from its one sentence description.

The script by John Scott 3 also shoots itself in the foot by mentioning something far more interesting that we never get to see - the quarantine lab where infected are sent. Apparently they aren't separated; if you were just bit or just shy of being a drooling full blown zombie, you get thrown in the same room, where they apparently let the problem solve itself by just letting them eat each other. Gruesome, sure, but I can't think of anything that's ever dealt with that sort of scenario (sort of like a prison drama), so it's a shame we only hear about it (practically in passing) instead of seeing it. The ending is also a letdown; I won't spoil the particulars, but there's a perspective shift that actually robs the film and its audience of a final moment with a main character. It sounds weird, but I wanted the ending to devastate me, and the choice they take didn't do that - it just left me kind of with blue balls. There's a fade to white, the sort of one where you know the next thing you'll see is credits, and I almost shouted "Oh come ON!" to the other 5 people in the theater (including a very old lady, who made me sadder than the movie - it was Mother's Day, why's she watching a zombie movie by herself?).

I know this is mainly a negative review, but I want to stress that the movie is still worth a look. Arnold's performance (and Breslin's, though that's not as revealing as she's consistently great), the terrific score, and the charming father/daughter bonding scenes are enough to make it worth seeing, though you don't need to rush out right now to do so. I really wanted to like it and was quite anxious to see it (I cut my Skype call to my mother-in-law short to go! And I really like her!), but after 30 minutes I realized the movie had already played its entire hand and we were just also kind of waiting for Maggie to turn, which may have been the point but if so it didn't translate to an effective feature (again, an episode of a TV show would be ideal for this exact scenario/number of characters). As long as you go in knowing that it's so stripped down that it's almost weightless, you'll probably find a lot to appreciate and enjoy, especially if you're a die-hard fan of Arnold's that still looks forward to his ass-kicking adventures with the same fervor you did as a kid. I'll give it this much - his crying has come a long way since End of Days' embarrassing snowglobe scene, so for that alone it's a winner.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Drownsman (2014)

MAY 4, 2015

GENRE: SLASHER, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

There have been a number of horror films about people dealing with their fears (The Fear and its sequel, the more recent Fear Clinic), but apart from agoraphobia - a desired affliction for producers because it's a good excuse to not shoot outdoors - most of them present a variety of different things that scare its characters. Someone's afraid of the dark, another one's afraid of spiders, etc. The Drownsman is one of those rare ones to focus on one particular phobia, and it's the FIRST I can recall where said phobia is aquaphobia, aka the fear of water*. Since it's a horror movie, it proves to be not an unfounded one, as one by one her friends realize (too late, of course, since this is a slasher) that their friend isn't crazy - the water really IS out to get them.

Well, what's IN the water I mean, namely the title character. But while her fear kicks off after a near-drowning in a lake, the film quite enjoyably opts to limit the size of the water sources that the Drownsman emerges from. Rather than constantly have the characters find ways to go into lakes, oceans, or even tubs (after the first 20 minutes, in the scene that springs him on the group), The Drownsman comes at them from puddles, leaks, a rinsing station at a salon, even a small spill from a bottle of water. There's a certain Freddy-esque fun to these scenes; just as the Elm St movies allowed anything to happen as long as it was possible for the character to doze off, here he can show up if there's even a drop of water nearby, which in a normal world there almost always is (hell he can get me right now from three different spots in my office alone).

And like some Freddy kill scenes we see our characters being pulled from the real world into the Drownsman's, allowing the movie to sort of double up on its kill scenes. Like, we see them doing whatever and then UH OH WATER! and getting pulled into their desk or a sink or whatever (director Chad Archibald employs some great lo-fi techniques to sell these images instead of CGI - big thumbs up there), and the scenes are usually drawn out in a kind of Final Destination-y way, making them feel like full blown death scenes on their own. But then the character wakes up in The Drownsman's little dungeon (akin to Freddy's boiler room) and they get killed for real, in a less elaborate but not exactly instant death sequence of its own. There are only four or five kills in the movie, but this gives them double the action and even more suspense; you can hope they don't get sucked into his world in the first place, and then you can hope they find their way out of it.

Admittedly, this also allows Archibald to pad his runtime a bit. It's not a particularly elaborate story (not really a complaint, it IS a slasher film after all), and even with the lengthened kill scenes the movie still runs south of 90 minutes with slow credits. I wouldn't have noticed if not for an awkward omission that at first I thought was intentional: there's a curious shortage of male characters in the movie. When we meet our group of four pals (a fifth is introduced later), one of them has just gotten engaged at the party that they've all just exited, and asks our heroine Madison to be her maid of honor. Then Madison nearly drowns (unrelated!) and we cut to a year later, where the now-bride is furious at Madison for missing the wedding. We can see that it's raining, and Madison's eyes widen at the sight of a puddle on the floor near the bride, so we can assume her accident has left her with a paralyzing fear of the water - but why couldn't we just see this wedding? Why does the audience have to piece together something that drives the plot?

Additionally, throughout the film we never once meet the groom, making me wonder for a while if the director was intentionally sidelining all of the males for some reason. It's around 30 minutes before we meet our first male character (an older guy whose daughter disappeared, presumably taken by The Drownsman), and from then on, apart from the big guy himself, I think the only other male is an orderly at the hospital where one of the exposition-y people is housed, someone who has like 15 seconds of screentime. Everyone else, even background extras, is a female - it almost HAS to be a conscious choice, but for what purpose I do not know. It's a relief in one respect, however - without a guy around the movie is the rare modern slasher that doesn't include a goddamn love triangle, and for that I am thankful.

I also appreciated Archibald's direction, which included things like cutaways and closeups (no longer a given, sadly) but wasn't over edited to the point of incoherency. In fact he seems to be inspired a bit by the likes of James Wan; the trips to the Drownsman's domain, bathed in red (but with slices of green here and there) reminded me of Insidious (specifically the Lipstick Demon's lair), and his love of cutaways to dripping water recalls Black Sabbath (a frequent and acknowledged influence on Wan). The script isn't the best thing ever written by any means, but the direction more or less made up for it - Anchor Bay's track record as of late has been pretty woeful, which I know because I've dutifully watched just about everything they've sent me - this and Atticus Institute are the only ones in what seems like a year that I've enjoyed enough to write about. Neither are classics, but their hearts are in the right place and they get more right than wrong, which (again) is rare enough to sadly warrant mentioning.

I just wish the movie was more like its cover art! I admit this one might have been pushed down in the pile of movies I plan to watch if not for the very 80s, big VHS box-inspired cover, which suggested something more schlocky and fun than the film actually offered. It's actually a pretty serious movie, and as someone who is afraid of all kinds of fish (!) I can't really mock the idea of a person shrieking and getting into fetal position because it starts to rain - everyone's afraid of something, and those who aren't afraid of that thing probably find it hard to understand why. That said, I did have to chuckle a bit when (spoiler?) our heroine triumphantly drinks a glass of water to face her fear (she had been getting fluids intravenously), because it's followed by her fairly easily going out in the rain, which you'd think would be the harder thing for her. It'd be like if I beat my ichthyophobia by gobbling down a filet o fish, and then casually wandered into the New England Aquarium. This isn't how baby steps works!

So it's an OK movie, a perfectly good rental - I can't really see a purchase making much sense as it's not the kind of thing you're likely to rewatch. Plus, the Bay didn't bother adding any bonus features whatsoever (not even a trailer), and the audio mix is a bit wonky - the requisite shrieks during the climax were all distorted, prompting me to lower my volume to -45 or so (it's usually -30, -25). Didn't have trouble before then, but it was loud/obnoxious enough to warrant mentioning, especially as it was near the end and thus if you're watching late (as it is a horror movie) the offending part will likely wake a roommate, possibly even a neighbor, if you happen to have it up to normal volume. Otherwise the presentation is solid, and it's an improvement over the team's Antisocial, a not-great "infected" (read: zombie, basically) movie that cribbed a bit too much from The Signal for my liking, though it had some fun ideas (the zombie plague spread through social media!). That one has a sequel already in the can, and this one ends with the seeming promise of a followup - guess which one I'm more excited about?

What say you?

*Don't say Jaws, you wannabe know-it-all. Big difference between a character trait and a narrative.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Unfriended (2015)

APRIL 18, 2015

GENRE: GHOST, REVENGE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I often say that I don't dismiss any horror movie for a lack of scares, because I don't frighten easily and thus it wouldn't be fair (it'd be like David Ortiz criticizing little leaguers for failing to strike him out), but I have to make an exception for Unfriended, because it simply has NO SCARES. I don't mean effective ones, I mean none at all - good, bad, earned, fake... however you want to categorize a "boo", it's safe to assume this movie doesn't have enough of them. There's one kinda effective moment where it seems like the Skype image of one girl is frozen until they see her phone rattling to her (meaning SHE is frozen, not the image), but it's not well executed. And then there's a bit where the ghost suddenly loads an ironic song on Spotify, but it's played more for laughs than a fright moment; even in the annals of "loud noise = scare!" it's hardly a great example.

You might notice I'm listing things you've heard of: Skype, Spotify, etc. What the movie DOES do well, and why it works at all, is that it doesn't make up a bunch of fake apps that were clearly inspired by ones you know of - it just uses the real one. No "Friendspace" or "Twiddle-Book" or whatever the hell, our heroine Blaire goes to the same sites and uses all the same programs you yourself have on your computer (including VLC, which seems to be a bit advanced for someone who doesn't know how to use keyboard shortcuts), which is a huge relief as I've never fully understood why people go to the trouble of inventing a fake search engine in a movie just to look up things like "Nightmares" or "Telekinesis" (it makes a bit more sense when they're looking for fictional people, in order to control the search matches). This grounds the movie into our reality, rather than distracting us with cheesy simulacrums of the world's leading programs.

And, for better or (often) worse, the filmmakers accurately reflect what it would be like to be in a Skype conference call with six teenagers. They talk over each other, they laugh at two others getting into a row, and Blaire, whose laptop screen is what we see for the entire movie, often minimizes the program to play songs on Spotify, iChat with her boyfriend, look at Facebook, etc, while the conversation(s) continue in the background. Sure, if you want to get really anal you can spot some fakery in the background, such as the curiously high numbers for bland (fake?) Youtube videos alongside the one that serves the plot (12 million views for a 25 second video titled "Lake Tahoe vacation"?) or the fact that her iChat log keeps disappearing every time she clicks back to it, but where it matters, it's accurate and believable.

It's also fun to see things like "greyed out contextual menu options" become part of the plot. If you were unaware, the film is about the supposed ghost of a girl who killed herself joining on a group Skype chat and demanding that whoever posted an embarrassing video of her (which led to the suicide) own up to what they did, killing someone every now and then until the guilty party outs themselves. So naturally the solution would be to disconnect them, but the ghost is apparently in the machine, and so attempts are futile - the option to do anything that you'd think to do has either been greyed out or disappeared entirely. Again, this is where the film's realism helps matters greatly, as our familiarity with the programs lets us instantly know that something is amiss. When the ghost sends Blaire an email for her eyes only and one of the others demands to see it, it's fun to see that Gmail's "forward" option - which we all know where it should be - has been wiped out. This wouldn't work with "Fast Email 2000" or whatever nonsense the filmmakers would usually come up with, making it a far more effective moment.

The other thing that makes it feel more genuine is Blaire's legit activity when typing. We see her write things with the occasional typo, some she corrects and others she leaves. We see her pause, hovering over the send button as she reconsiders what to say, many times rewriting it before finally being satisfied. This actually offers us information that the other characters never learn; when the dead girl's history is asked about, Blaire writes several drafts of the reply, and we can piece together what appears to have left her messed up (an uncle did something) before she finally settles on something noncommittal. We're so used to seeing the absolute fakest representation of online communication in movies (i.e. people saying every word they type) that it actually feels somewhat genius to just show it like it actually is.

BUT WHY CAN'T IT BE SCARY? The ghost has no physical presence to speak of (unless you count the innocuous Skype logo - I hope a sequel can find the protagonists being terrorized by the Twitter egg), and all of the kills are mostly off-screen (the most explicit is the one in the trailer - the kid shoving his hand into a blender). And it takes forever to know what exactly the video showed that made her a target; revenge movies of this sort (it's basically Terror Train or Slaughter High or any other "victim of prank returns to exact revenge" horror) tend to work better when the prank kicks the movie off, not when we gradually learn what it is (and it's kind of goofy; the ads tried to suggest it was some sort of sexual act but it's actually... well, you'll see). So it's hard to really sympathize with the ghost as we're not even sure what they did until after she's already killed a few of them - it'd be nice to have that "well they deserved it!" feeling for a while. I know cyber-bullying is a horrible thing, but since they're kind of making light of the seriousness of it by having a ghost exact revenge (as opposed to a tech-savvy parent or sibling of the deceased), it's easier to judge it along the lines of its horror brethren as opposed to "modern film tackles a growing issue".

The filmmakers also go way overboard with the glitches. Even more unrealistic than the idea of a ghost using Skype is the chances of a seven way call going for over an hour (the movie plays out in real time) without anyone getting disconnected because of a poor signal or whatever, but every 7 seconds someone is victim of that weird video glitch where the shape of a person remains in one side of a screen even though they've moved to the other (I don't know what the name for it is, pixelated smearing?). Like film damage filters on faux "grindhouse" material or digital hiccups on found footage movies, the editors and directors simply forget that less is more, taking what could be used well/natural and making it ridiculous. The movie was shot in long takes (even going through the entire movie in one go, from what I understand) and is seamlessly edited together, so it's obvious that they put time and energy into the presentation, so it baffles me that they'd be so careless with glitching the footage so often (and on that note, why they wouldn't clean up some strange mistakes - like Zombie's Halloween II, they seemingly can't decide if it's a year later or two, so we see evidence of both).

So here we have a unique situation (especially for a horror film) where they get lots of "side" stuff right (and mostly good performances too, I should mention) but fail on the basics: no scares, not even that much suspense, and a vastly underutilized villain. Usually it's the other way around; we overlook the flimsy reality and lousy acting as long as the scares work and/or the villain is memorable, but here it's like the best things about it have zero to do with being a horror movie. Perhaps if they opted to switch screens, or condense the timeline and see it play out from one perspective before rewinding to see it from another (like Rec 2), the suspense factor could be improved, but with everything being told from one POV, it's not even a spoiler to say that whatever REALLY pissed her off was the fault of our heroine and thus she'll be saved for last. Padding it out with other secrets between the group (including, yet again, a love triangle involving someone sleeping with their best friend's S/O - can we give this plot point a rest in our modern horror films?) doesn't help matters either; all it does is remind us that this is a great premise that can't sustain itself for a full feature.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

An American Terror (2014)

APRIL 15, 2015

GENRE: SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

I recently saw Class of 1984 for the first time, and while it's got its hokey elements and B-movie trappings, it's still a fascinating look at a then "possible future" that not only came true, but got worse. Nothing in the movie is as bad as what's actually happened at Columbine, Sandy Hook, etc., which is what makes it hard to remember that at the time it was made, the movie's vision of metal detectors in high schools wasn't yet a reality. It's "dated" in the most peculiar way, which is why movies like An American Terror can manage to hit those same nerves even though it's not particularly good. The attempt at blending a disturbing "the outcasts strike back" scenario with a Hostel-esque torture dungeon is admirably unique, but it never quite gels, and the epilogue is so laughably bad it mostly undoes whatever message the movie was trying to get across.

For the first 20 minutes or so, it's only "horror" in the scary real world sense - our protagonists are a trio of typical outcast stereotypes: the chubby nerd with glasses, the emo kid, and the skater punk. The popular kids call them fags, deface one of their cars, etc., and they decide they've had enough and will get revenge at the upcoming homecoming dance. The nerdy one builds pipe bombs at home while the other two go out to some remote junkyard to secure guns, where they poke around and miraculously discover an underground lair. At this point it becomes your average horror movie from 2008, with our protagonists getting chained up, tortured, running around dimly lit corridors, etc. One of them is killed pretty quickly, the other one engages in cat-n-mouse struggles with the villain, a 400 lb half naked guy wearing what looks like a gas mask outfitted with a beak.

Somewhere in there the surviving kid finds a cheerleader that has been kidnapped as well, but seemingly left alone while Birdman watches cartoons and molests a toy doll (no idea). This is where the movie starts to falter; not only is it baffling that the killer hasn't done anything of note to her, but of course she just happens to be one of the "nice" popular kids who doesn't pick on him and (gasp!) even remembers his name. It'd be far more interesting if it was one of the worst of the worst trapped in there with him, a girl (or guy) who would gladly leave him for dead and not care that he saved her. Instead (spoiler!) she is so grateful to him that she promises him "cheerleader pussy" in front of the jocks at the film's conclusion, which manages to make Jordana Brewster's character making out with Elijah Wood at the end of The Faculty look plausible in comparison. There's a great moment a few minutes earlier, where it's the next morning and he's sitting at the breakfast table with a half-smile on his face as his parents scream at each other - THAT'S the ending. He survived, he stopped his friend from blowing up the dance, and his problems don't seem so bad anymore. Or even right before the "cheerleader pussy" line, when he stands up to the bullies and walks away - that too would have been acceptable. But the movie is already asking us to suspend our disbelief quite a bit, so that moment just doesn't work at all. At that point the movie transitions from "slightly happy ending to a grim movie" to "let's change the tone completely in favor of total fantasy". The director might as well have had the local Porsche dealership give him a brand new car and a million dollars while he was at it.

And it doesn't help matters any that the torture dungeon sequence (which is basically the movie's 2nd act - they escape with quite a bit to go as they race to the school in order to stop the other kid from blowing it up) is pretty forgettable. The killer passes the action figure test (molested toy doll sold separately), but without anyone else trapped in there with them it's basically one long chase scene with few stakes, as we know they'll both be OK. There's a brief bit where it seems like things will get more interesting, when the hulking, previously silent killer reveals himself to be able to speak quite normally (a move swiped from The Hills Run Red, but still a fun one to pull out), but it goes nowhere, and when this segment of the film wrapped up with over 20 minutes to go, I couldn't help but feel that it was basically just padding. Sure, it's the thing that makes our hero decide NOT to massacre his school, but anything could have done that. And fans will likely feel ripped off about it too; the DVD cover showcases Birdman (albeit a much skinnier version) and the plot description focuses mainly on this element, but it's really only like a 35 minute segment in the middle of the movie. Not only is that less than half, but since it's over with and forgotten with an entire act to go, it doesn't even count as something it's building toward - it'd be like promoting The Conjuring entirely around Annabelle (or Annabelle around, uh, the creepy kids in the hall or something). I guess we can give them a few points for not bringing the killer back and following the kid to the homecoming (he's pretty definitively killed; it's actually awesome in theory but marred by poor CGI), but even that would at least marry the two plots together in a better fashion than "the kid gets scared and changes his mind about something else."

So in that regard it feels episodic; there's one or two cutaways to the kid that stayed behind to build bombs, and annoying titles reminding us what time it is, but otherwise it's easy to forget about the real plot during the would-be Hostel sequel in the middle. The more gung-ho kid is the one that gets killed within seconds of entering the dungeon, and there isn't all that much dialogue for the next half hour. So the first half hour is about some tormented kids deciding to strike back, the 2nd half hour is about an unlikely pairing trying to escape a mad killer, and the third is about a kid who does the right thing. The hero kid isn't a bad actor or anything, but his journey is so scattershot that it's hard to really get into it (and, lest we forget, he puts himself into this situation because he's part of a would-be terrorist plot, though to be fair he's a bit hesitant about it from the start). The editing doesn't help, either; the director was also the editor, and he had a real hard-on for slow fades, and thus uses them oh, eleventy billion times or so during the 82 minute film. He also frequently cuts to similar angles (particularly during the brief climactic struggle between hero and now ex-friend), which is a maddening technique I have zero tolerance for. I'd rather see boom mics or something in the shot than feel like the editor is trying to cut that sort of gaffe out of the image.

Ordinarily I'd feel a bit bad about slamming an indie; the credits end with a personal thank you from the director to everyone that helped him accomplish his dream, which suggests this was a labor of love and maybe even something personal. And hey, he made a movie and got it released - he should be proud. Plus it's not even THAT bad, just sloppy and awkwardly structured (this is one case where a flashback structure might have actually improved things), and commits the sin of sending you off on the movie's worst moment. But then I looked on the IMDb page to check something halfway through writing this review, and saw not one, not two, but THREE 10 star reviews from people who otherwise never review anything, which means they are fake. This drives me up a wall even when I see it on movies I really like, so no guilt here. If they want to mislead people by comparing it to Halloween and Friday the 13th (which doesn't even make sense - it's not a slasher film), then it's only fair folks like me balance it out with an honest take. I really don't get why these plant reviews don't set their bar a bit lower so they're less obvious; I do not doubt folks like it (Dread Central gave it a nice review, in fact), but when you toss around terms like "best of the year candidate", you're only setting people up for disappointment - IF they believe you're a real viewer in the first place. Have a little tact, plants!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Babadook (2014)

APRIL 12, 2015

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I forget if I've mentioned it here, but right around the time HMAD was ending the daily routine, I started working part time for Netflix as one of their taggers, which means I watch movies and enter in all the data that helps them make their recommendations ("if you like Exorcist, you may also like Omen" - they know that because someone before my time had probably noted that they were both 70s horror movies with religious overtones and creepy kids, and the computer matched them, same as an online dating service or whatever). On one hand this is great, because not only is it extra money (basically, daycare gets paid for), but also if I see something terrible like Wrong Turn 6 at Screamfest, and say "You'd have to pay me to watch that again!", it actually happens. On the other hand, that means I'm watching movies the totally wrong way, counting up the F-bombs to determine its profanity tag, keeping an eye out for license plates in case no one actually says what city/state they're in (the location gets tagged), and other things that distract away from how a horror movie like The Babadook works on a normal audience.

Which is to say, when I watched it a while back for tagging, I wasn't as impressed as many of my peers. Even factoring in my usual "I don't scare easily" problem for a movie that was mainly winning people over for being scary, I just didn't get why it was touching such a nerve - the recent The Canal was far more effective to me, also offering a supernatural/psychological blend for a tale about a single parent becoming unraveled. It wasn't until this week, when I watched it again the RIGHT way (i.e. not concerning myself with things like "Does that count as innuendo?" regarding sex), that I started to get why the likes of William Friedkin sung the film's praises during its theatrical run earlier this year. Of course, by now some of the power had been diluted because it was a 2nd viewing, but I was able to at least PRETEND I was seeing it with fresh eyes, and thus I'm happy to report that this is indeed one of the year's better fright flicks (though I still like The Canal better!).

Its first hour and change works best, which is kind of remarkable because it only takes about 10 minutes for you to fully understand the gravity of the situation. Our heroine is Amelia, a very tired/frustrated single mom played by Essie Davis, and her kid is... different, but not in the usual horror movie way - to put it gently, he's a giant pain in the ass. Eventually we learn that his father/her husband was killed in a car crash on the way to the hospital to give birth, which has understandably left his mom with a bit of resentment that she tries to bottle up and choke down, and also left HIM without a father figure. As I'm learning now with my own son, there are things that I can do my wife can't, and vice versa (not limited to breastfeeding), and while obviously many single parents have produced amazing, normal kids, I'm pretty sure mine will be left a bit messed up without both of us. We each have our pros and cons, so we know who the go-to person is for certain things, a system that will (hopefully!) ensure he turns out OK. Not that he will turn out like this friggin nightmare of a kid either way, but I certainly get the idea now better than I would have a year or two ago. Sometimes I have to watch him solo for the bulk of a day, and while it's fine for that rare occasion, if I had to do it every day, without her much better skill at putting him to sleep, getting him to eat solid foods... yikes.

Now, to be fair he's not like Problem Child or whatever - he's just hyperactive and maybe a little bit "on the spectrum" as they say ("he speaks his mind", his mother often says, in response to the way he can casually offer exposition to complete strangers - a nice shorthand to deliver the backstory, really) which of course makes everyone think he's weird. He's obsessed with magicians, seemingly has no friends, and makes homemade weapons to protect him and his mum against the monsters he's convinced are after them. This fear intensifies after he reads "The Babadook", a terrifying bedtime story (a pop up book to be exact) that he finds in his collection one night - neither of them recognize it but the mom goes ahead and reads it anyway. Side note here - the movie frequently employes jump cuts, and the one that transitions between his unknowing mom reading him this awful thing and him sobbing his eyes out as she tries to comfort him with a traditionally calming bedtime story is amazing. From then on they are terrorized by the titular monster, who she believes is just his overactive imagination at work, but eventually she starts seeing things too...

And this is where the movie starts falling apart a bit for me. Her growing belief in the Babadook (which, of course, might be the manifestation of her own frustration) plays great, but the climax itself goes on forever, and it's simply not as interesting to me as the numerous scenes of the kid driving his mother to the breaking point, watching her unravel more and more as his behavior gets increasingly obnoxious. Her sister starts to distance herself, she screws up at work, etc, and the kid just WON'T. SHUT. UP. Her lack of sleep becomes an ongoing plot concern (Ms. Davis sells it beautifully; one quick look at her face tells you everything in any given scene), with several scenes where she just finally gets to lay down and the kid instantly starts screaming about something again. I'm not sure if non parents can appreciate how great these scenes are - it's rare I identify so well with someone in a horror movie as I did at these points, as I myself have literally gone to bed only to have to get back up within a second or two (not an exaggeration) because the sleeping baby had already woken up. You might be so exhausted that you can barely move, and yet you HAVE TO GET BACK UP. And he's just crying for some milk; this kid's problems clearly can't be solved so quickly or even temporarily. Writer/director Jennifer Kent does a fantastic job of letting us feel her exhaustion, loneliness, etc - while still delivering a few scares and other traditional horror elements.

But like I said, the climax isn't quite as effective. Oddly, it feels a bit like Poltergeist II's, of all goddamn things, with a parent being possessed by SOMETHING and being the tormentor before resuming their role as protector to a justifiably confused child. I don't care how good it is before then, if you remind your audience of Poltergeist II, you're doing yourself a disservice (unless it's specifically recalling Kane, then it's OK). Plus, unless Kent is cheating visually, we have our answer as to whether or not the Babadook is real, so part of the fun is deflated - the question of whether or not it was just the kid's imagination and/or the mom having a mental break (or both) was the selling point, and getting the answer is bound to be disappointing on some level. I don't know if never coming down hard either way would be any better, but again, The Canal did similar things and its climax is incredible. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't "ruin the film" or anything drastic like that, but if I felt stronger about the film's last 15-20 minutes I'd probably be as vocally supportive as Friedkin (I forget the exact quote but I think he basically said it was the scariest movie since Exorcist).

Another issue I had requires a SPOILER, so skip this paragraph if you don't want anything else revealed. For those still here, I think Kent needlessly obscures the fact that the mom was the one who wrote the damn book. At least, I THINK it's supposed to be a fact; if it's up to interpretation then our other option is that a random book appeared in their house before any sort of entity had been unleashed, which suggests... home invasion? No, it has to be that she wrote it, but there are only two signs pointing to that. One isn't TOO bad; she quickly reveals that she used to write children's books, but the subject is changed instantly, so the audience can't really let its implication sink in, if they pick up on it at all. The other is even more vague - at one point she has dirty smudged ink hands, and we later see that the book has had pages added to it. Putting those two things together is not something the average audience member will do on first viewing unless they are specifically looking for clues that the mother wrote it. So combined, it's not a very effective means of conveying what's kind of an important plot point. Unless, again, Kent didn't want that spelled out or didn't even want it clarified one way or the other, but if that is the case I can't really see what the motivation for that would be, beyond needless vaguery for the sake of vaguery. If you have theories, I'd love to hear them - the movie certainly has elements that are up for debate, but this particular one doesn't seem like it should be one of them, since you're left with the question of "If not her, who did?", which for a relatively grounded movie is something that demands an answer. It's not like this is a David Lynch movie.

If you're looking for any further insight from Kent, the vast collection of bonus features won't be of much help. Kent provides no commentary or anything of the sort; she appears in the hour-long collection of interviews but they're taken from the promotional EPK and thus are not very revelatory (and yes, she even says "I want the audience to decide those things for themselves"). These interviews are not broken up with chapters either, so if you want to skip past someone like the coworker who appears in like two scenes to get to Kent (who is smack dab in the middle of the sequence) you just have to fast forward them - kind of obnoxious considering the length. Since EPKs are largely worthless once you've seen the movie anyway, feel free to skip them (and the "behind the scenes", which is just the B-roll) and focus on the others, in particular the look at the set design (I was kind of amazed to discover the house was a set) and the creation of the pop up book. I've watched a million bonus features on DVDs/Blus for the past nearly 20 years (damn) and this is the first time I've seen one explaining how a pop up book is put together. The original short, Monster, is also included and is worth a look at what boils down to the movie's entire plot sped up into ten minutes. Some deleted scenes are also included; nothing particularly useful (and no explanation for their excision is offered), but I did like the bit with the neighbor - Davis once again effortlessly sells this woman's total exhaustion with just a few looks and words, and the neighbor lady's response to her is not only sweet, but reminds her of something that I myself have trouble remembering: asking for help is OK. We have no family around to help with the baby, and kind of feel isolated at times, but on those rare occasions we've asked someone to babysit so we can just go relax for a bit, it's amazing how UN-difficult it's been to find someone willing to lend a hand. As long as we don't forget that, we will be safe from the Babadook!

Speaking of the pop-up book, the limited edition of the Blu-ray has a scaled down version of the book's cover, which is very cool, and the special edition is the only way to get Monster and the better bonus features (the junky interviews are on the regular edition, I guess). So if you're a bonus junkie, you should spring for the pricier one, but it's nice that the "non" special edition still has SOMETHING added to sweeten the deal. It's a shame that Kent couldn't be roped in for a commentary (it's the rare Scream Factory release that lacks one), but based on her interview I guess she's not the sort that likes to spell everything out, so it makes sense that she'd opt out of sitting down and talking about the movie for 90 minutes. I DO wish I could get her to reveal whether I'm right regarding the film's title - if you flip the Bs and Ds (in their lowercase form) you get "dada book", which I have no further theory on but I'd like to know if it was intentional. I know the film's anagram is "A Bad Book", but that's boring to me. Team DADA BOOK!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Nightlight (2013)

MARCH 30, 2015

GENRE: GHOST
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

After screwing up my schedule, I found myself with 2+ hours to kill before my actual work shift started today, and thus opted to head next door to Citywalk - specifically the AMC theater there - to watch something with my sudden surplus of free time (since moving last fall, going home wasn't a sound option - with the AM traffic, by the time I'd get there I'd only have about 20 minutes or so before having to drive back). I was going to see The Gunman, since it'll probably be gone by this weekend, but then I spied Nightlight, a horror film I never even heard of, let alone knew was currently playing theatrically. Obviously I wasn't going to let this random opportunity pass me by. Unfortunately, maybe I should have done just that.

I have no idea why Lionsgate opted to put this one out in a few theaters when so many of their acquisitions were relegated to DVD; the found footage "sub-genre" (more on that later, though I'll be repeating myself from other reviews) is dead, and there isn't anyone particularly recognizable in the cast, so I assume it had to be a contractual obligation type thing (it's also on VOD already, or at least Amazon). I was actually surprised someone else was in the theater with me; granted I'm not as immersed in this stuff as I used to be, but I would like to think I wouldn't completely miss a theatrical release - however minor - from a major studio. If it hadn't been for my scheduling snafu it might have passed my by entirely, and since the movie sucked I started wondering how many others like it I had missed in the past two post-HMAD years (or at least, the past 10 months, since Will was born). And also if those theoretical movies were any good.

A few things about the movie were admirable/novel, so I'll get those out of the way. For starters, this is the rare POV movie to be set entirely at night (and outside, save for the bookends and a piece of the climax). Blair Witch Project actually spent the majority of its scenes in the sunlit hours, but this one goes full force - even the brief introduction to our heroine and the film's narrative (a game of "Nightlight" in the woods) occurs when it's already dark out (it has to be this way for the film's "camera" to work - I'll get to that). I don't envy anyone who has to spend night after night in the woods shooting a movie, so kudos to the cast and crew for giving themselves this obstacle for the sake of sticking out a bit from its competition. Also, it doesn't dilly dally when it comes to the action - the first of our five idio-, er, heroes is killed at the 20 or 25 minute mark (thanks, ONE other guy there, for preventing me from being able to pull out my phone to check), which might be a record for this kind of thing since usually anything major like that is confined to the final act. There's a good reason for the usual slow burn - you don't want the audience asking "Why are they still filming" before they've gotten completely on board with the movie and thus were willing to go along with its fuzzy logic, but this movie avoids that since... well, again, I'll get to that.

But that's about all I can say that's positive; otherwise the movie is basically a disaster, with almost nothing working, and failing to engage on an even basic level. Since so little time is spent on setting up who anyone is before they're running around in the dark woods (and dodging trains for extra "Oh they're idiots" measure), it's nearly impossible to really care much about who lives or dies; even their immediate situation isn't compelling since they seemingly exist in a void. There's nothing that establishes how far the woods are from the populated part of town, or if any of the characters have friends/family who might notice they are missing - these are the sort of things we have apparently taken for granted in other movies. I half expected some twist that they were all dead or this was an alien planet or something, ANYTHING to justify the movie's bizarre disconnect from reality.

Which is odd, because it starts and ends with Ethan, a teen making a video that, when combined, add up to a suicide note - grounding this in an uncomfortable and yet very identifiable situation. In the first video he talks about how he tried to kill himself already, but that he will ask a girl he likes to the homecoming dance because he thinks that will cure his depression. In the second, it's after he was rejected, and he's about to go finish the job. It's sad, but here's the thing - the girl in question is Robin, our heroine, and except for a photo on a keychain they both have, we never see them together. It's not supposed to be a twist that he's talking about Robin, because not long after Ethan's introduction where he explains the keychain's significance (seriously, like, 3-4 minutes), we see that she has hers as well. In fact it's a badly inserted bit where she drops the keys just to make sure we see them clearly when she/the 'camera' lowers to pick them up, so they GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to make sure we understand the connection before they've even gone into the woods. This renders her later confession - coupled with Ethan's absence from the story - dramatically inert, because any halfway intelligent viewer will already have figured out what happened: she said no, and now his death will be the thing that literally haunts her in these supposedly ghost-filled woods. Yet the movie stops cold for her to explain that she rejected him, as if this would be some mind-blowing reveal to us (and then shows us Ethan's reaction at the very end, offering no new information and merely dragging out the ending). And with Ethan only present in these two brief moments, he can't possibly make for a good antagonist - it might as well be the ghost of any of the random other bodies buried out there (we see dozens of crosses in the woods throughout the film). And again, without ever seeing them together or even knowing much about their history, it's baffling that writer/directors Bryan Woods and Scott Beck opted to hinge the entire film on her guilt and his "revenge".

However, their screenwriting lapses are nothing compared to their utter failure at selling their novel idea properly. While it LOOKS like a found footage movie, there IS no camera - we see everything from the "POV" of a flashlight! There is no "why are they still filming?" thinking, because they're not! They're just holding out a light to see in the dark. But, admirably goofy as that is, it never really comes across very well, because apart from the 2.35 widescreen image that no consumer camera or cell phone would be shooting at, it just looks and plays out like every other found footage movie ever (and it's set in the woods, so Blair Witch will never NOT be on your mind - even BEFORE they build a scare around someone standing awkwardly facing a wall). Some of these movies have the problem that you forget you're seeing it through someone's camera, this has the unique (but equally bothersome) issue where you forget that you're NOT. Every single found footage movie that had an exterior scene at night (with the camera's light turned on) looks exactly like all of this footage, and it baffles me that they didn't beat us over the head early on that there was no camera in the woods - especially when their goddamn movie BEGINS WITH A KID TALKING INTO A VIDEO CAMERA! I guarantee you half the eventual audience won't even realize that his is the only actual camera (unless they notice the lack of people yelling "Stop filming and help us!" or whatever); the only thing they really do to try to establish the difference between it and Found Footage Movie #452 is an early scene where Robin turns her flashlight on herself while she's using her cell phone, but all that does is explain that she's not using her cell phone to film, not that she DOESN'T have a traditional camera.

And it doesn't even matter, because whether it's a camera or a flashlight we're seeing things through, it suffers from a lot of the same problems as any other found footage movie does, namely that it's too easy to forget whose POV we're seeing. If I followed its poorly explained backstory correctly, it is Ethan's flashlight that we see everything through (I wish we could say that the flashlight was the only source of evil, but we see occasional ghost monster things), so we get awkward things like our heroine switching flashlights with her would-be love interest, for no reason other than to make sure we see him wandering around and (spoiler) getting killed, before Robin finds the light again later. Perhaps if ALL of their flashlights had this magical POV ability, the directors would be able to easily reinforce that there were no cameras, simply by having a conversation between two characters cut back and forth, allowing us to see flashlights but nothing else in their hands.

So why paint yourself into a corner with such a weirdo plot device, forcing you to make your movie even sillier by working in excuses to change the POV? There is never any justification for the flashlight being the thing we see the movie's events through, beyond maybe five seconds of "Huh, that's new." Take any major found footage film (it's OK to compare, I think, since they're nearly indistinguishable) - Blair, Paranormal Activity, Rec, etc - and you can quickly explain why the camera is there: Heather was making a documentary, Micah bought it to capture footage of the ghost, Angela was shooting her TV show (and keeping it on for potential legal action later), etc. In a good POV movie, the camera and how it's used is just as essential as any of the main actors and how they act, how well they know their lines, etc. I don't know if the movie would be any good if shot traditionally since the central relationship that drives most of its action is left almost completely to our imaginations, but I DO know that their remarkably poor grasp on how to use a POV properly in this kind of movie makes it even worse.

I wasn't surprised to learn that the film was finished in 2013 (via the credits' copyright date; it was actually shot in 2012). That was when these movies were all the rage thanks to the still mammoth PA series (when this film was shot, we were between PA3 - the biggest sequel - and PA4, the one that was the beginning of the end), Chronicle, Last Exorcism... even Devil Inside, as much as folks hated it because of its ending, was a huge hit that helped green-light any number of other found footage horror flicks. But it also had another side effect that I recall filmmaker pals telling me about: studios and financiers were insisting that movies that were written as traditional narratives be converted into found footage style. But like 3D (itself killed by misapplication), the POV technique HAS to be part of the initial design, otherwise it's a disaster - it'd be like insisting that your normal New York-set romantic comedy be changed to take place in outer space without making any further changes to the script. The problem was that producers (and some just plain bad filmmakers) were treating an aesthetic like a sub-genre: what used to be a demand for slasher films was now a demand for "found footage". But even if you have no idea what you're doing, a slasher movie can still succeed if you have a few good kills, probably a bit of nudity, and a mask a kid will want for Halloween. Found footage takes a little more finesse; since you're working with a huge handicap to tell your story, it has to be something that justifies its existence within the narrative - something that can't quite be done if you're taking a regular script and adding "____'S POV" to all of the scene changes. If I had to guess, I'd assume these guys ran into that sort of demand, and didn't want to be "another" camera movie, so they came up with this flashlight idea. Or maybe they did have the idea first, but failed to A. recognize that the audience would have trouble knowing the difference or B. ask themselves WHY it should be a flashlight's POV beyond "it'll look funky!".

Try to imagine Blair Witch as a traditionally shot movie - it probably wouldn't be as effective. Why? Because the movie was designed from the ground up as something we see/don't see through the eyes of our heroes (mainly Heather), and with Heather herself holding the camera it put us in her head, letting us feel her frustration, her panicked scans across the trees to see what might be out there, etc. Or moving away from FF, think about Memento - did you ever watch the "in order" version of the movie on the special edition? If so, you probably quickly discovered that it was pretty goddamn boring - because it was a story that was meant to be seen backwards, so we would feel what Leonard felt every 10 minutes (i.e. not knowing what just happened). I can keep going, but I think the point is clear: be it a camera or a flashlight, using the POV aesthetic is a tool, and like any tool it should only be wielded by people who know how to use it. These guys either don't, or were forced to use it by someone calling the shots 3 years ago when the "sub-genre" was at its peak of popularity. Either way, it probably wouldn't work even with an otherwise well-constructed story, so it CERTAINLY doesn't work in a muddled, half-baked one like this. Sorry, but "Found Flashlight" isn't likely to take off anytime soon, even if it is a relief to watch this sort of thing without wondering who found and edited all the footage into a nice narrative for us.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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